Featured Story Motorsport

Patrick Dempsey and the Art of Racing in the Rain

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

It’s been a labour of love for Dr. McDreamy, who acquired the rights to the book more than 10 years ago

This is a good news, bad news story. First, the good news.

The book, the Art of Racing in the Rain, a story by author Garth Stein about a car salesman and racing driver as seen through the eyes of his dog, is being made into a movie. You should be able to see it sometime in 2019.

The bad news is that Patrick (Dr. McDreamy) Dempsey, who was originally going to star in it, is now just one of the producers.

I am writing today about this movie, and Patrick Dempsey, because we are all at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and the movie company is filming the last of the racing scenes during this weekend’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix featuring the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

We interrupt this column to bring you the results of qualifying held Saturday for Sunday`s feature race: Jonathan Bennett and Colin Braun will start from pole in their ORECA LMP2. Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya will go off second in a Penske Racing Acura Dpi and Simon Trummer and Robert Alon in another ORECA LMP2 will start third. They are all driving Daytona Prototypes. In GT Le Mans, Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet in a Porsche 911 RSR are on pole; in GT Daytona, Jack Hawksworth and David Heinemeier Hansson will start first in a Lexus. We now return you to our regularly scheduled column.

Dempsey, whose racing team won its class at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, isn’t race-driving this weekend. But he’s a busy guy, running around here and there with director Jeff Zwart. They took a few moments to stop and talk with a couple of television and print journalists.

Norris McDonald: So what’s more fun – acting, race-driving or producing?

Patrick Dempsey: I like the producing and the racing myself. The acting kind of comes in third at this point.

McDonald: Yeah, but it was the acting that gave you the money to do all of this stuff.

Dempsey: One helped the other, without question. I think, for me, being within the racing community really helped me. It goes hand-in-hand now. The lessons I’ve learned from Porsche and the organization and the way they approach things – and even creatively – I think has really helped me on the Hollywood side in many ways. The discipline in racing has been really good for me.

McDonald: Are you done racing?

Dempsey: I was around the track yesterday, and I’ve done some stuff this year. Endurance racing, I don’t know; probably more sprint stuff at this point.

McDonald: How about going to Indy?

Dempsey: I think I missed the window. Maybe if I were a younger man. But if I were to go, I’d go with Penske, I think.

Peter LeClair (TV cameraman): How personal is this (movie) project?

Dempsey:  It’s been 10 years in development. It started a really long time ago. I think I secured the rights when we were still in Homestead, we were racing down there (2008). Everybody would come up to me and say, ‘You have to get the rights to this book, for this film.‘ Even Jeff (Zwart), who’s doing our second unit stuff – and thank God he’s here –  would say that.

So it’s been a long process. It usually takes about 10 years. We’ve had great support, with IMSA making it possible to film at these races. And all the teams have been incredibly supportive, as have all the manufacturers.

Hopefully, this will turn out to be good for the viewers, people who don’t understand motorsports. This will give them a taste of it and certainly the book is so beloved.  We’re a week out from finishing and hopefully we’ll have a release date soon.

Thank goodness for the rain of two nights ago because that really helped us. Working within the timeframe that we have, in between the racing, in trying to capture the actual race footage and then get the pit stops done, has been challenging. Most of our work is being done in these three days.

LeClair: When did you decide on this track and what do you think of the area?

Dempsey: This is one of the best tracks in the world. The drivers love this track.  The improvements that they‘ve made over the years  – they’ve made it safer, they’ve made it better for the fans. This area is really beautiful and we were here because we were shooting in Vancouver anyway – certainly the tax incentives help us to be here in Canada, it just makes it easier. Plus there’s so many productions going on in Toronto that the resources are available to us.

Niki Anastasakis (Global Peterborough TV reporter): When do you expect to have a release date?

Dempsey: I’ve heard rumours but nothing definite. I would recommend that everybody go out and get the book, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

Jeff Zwart: I’ve kind of grown up around motorsport and I hooked up with Patrick on this project. I read that book for the first time and it brought so many images to my mind.  Having been able to race around in the series years back, and coming up as a photographer around the IMSA Series, and putting my kind of racing intuitions into this, it’s been really a great project for me and something really special.

Nate Siebens, IMSA PR: How will this appeal to the IMSA fan?

Dempsey: Jeff is here and he understands racing. That would be the biggest complement – if they walk away after seeing the film and say it’s true and honest and has the right feeling.

Zwart: That’s totally true. Both of us really sense if something is made up as opposed to reality and that’s part of the reason why we’re really shooting this as part of a race weekend so that we have all of the infrastructure here, we have the real competitors here, and we have that competitive spirit going on at the same time where people really want to run against each other and come out on top. I like that. Every scene that we shoot, even when I tell people that you’re going out to be third, fourth or fifth, they’re always questioning that, they want to run up front.

Dempsey: Which is good, because it adds energy to the film in many ways. The guys going over the wall, they’re really crew guys. That gives you the authenticity and they’re excited to be a part of it and it’s great to have them doing it because the reality of doing makes it believable.

Zwart: Today we’re shooting a real pit stop as it’s going on, and a real driver change – those kinds of things that will add credibility to it all. It will make the audience feel as if they are really in the race, as opposed to just observing it and certainly some of the rain we had the other night really played to our benefit – you couldn’t make that stuff up. That was intense, driving in heavy rain, and our filming will really be able to show that.

LeClair: Where are you in the project now?

Dempsey: We should be wrapped on Wednesday. We’ll do another couple  of shots that we’re working on to be shot at another couple  of tracks but for the most part, the principal photography will be done.

Anastasakis: When did you start?

Dempsey: We started – we had a 58-day shoot so we’re two months in. Everything started ramping up in January.

Zwart: Our first meeting with IMSA was at Sebring. That kind of gives you an idea. We were at Sebring on the the ground with our actors, with Patrick, kind of co-orindating this, putting it all together with IMSA, which was kind of key to this working out and that’s why we’re here today.

McDonald: The last time there was a movie made around a race in Toronto – at the Molson Indy – was Sylvester Sallone’s masterpiece, Driven. Hopefully, this will be a better movie.

Dempsey: Okay, Driven is a different experience. You look at Le Mans, you look at Grand Prix, they’re kind of classic movies and that’s the kind of bar that you really want to hit. This is about a journeyman driver and the obstacles that come in the way of him becoming a champion and the racing is more of a metaphor. From the dog’s perspective, it’s a different beast, literally; it’s a different story, The little bit of racing that we have in it, we have some archival footage, and then we have this stuff that’s at the track, wer’e trying to be as true to life as possible. They are two different films, completely.

LeClair: How difficult is it to film at a race?

Zwart: It offers advantages to be at a real race but it also gives us challenges. The show’s going on with or without us. We can’t really interfere with that. The great thing is that you have all of this. You couldn’t create this on a back lot someplace.

Dempsey: It gives us authenticity but there’s Hollywood time and racing time. The two are at odds and so we have to work on that, to make sure we’re as regimented as the racing series (and) being respectful to the teams that are going to go racing.

Siebens: What are each of your rolls?

Zwart: I’m second unit director. I was brought in to create an authentic racing environment. To put together a team that could really capture that. For me it’s kind of balancing the story that’s within the story, the part of the movie but a very important part to tell the story of what (the hero) Denny’s real passion is about. That’s where being on the ground here and creating the scenes that we need to do, and involving the teams, is so important. Basically, any time a car is moving in this show, I’m filming it.

Dempsey: For me, it was identifying the material before it was even published. I read it and thought that this would be a great opportunity. I acquired the rights and have been more or less dealing with it for the last 10 years. Just putting a team together.

All of the lessons I`ve learned in racing, I think, has really helped me in putting together this team and supporting them to succeed.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca